U.S. Rep. Fred Keller is asking the U.S. Attorney General to intercede and stop the transfer of federal prisoners to other facilities, including the U.S. Penitentiary at Lewisburg and Federal Correctional Institution at Allenwood amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“It’s absolutely shameful,” Keller said Monday morning of the inconsistent messages from the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) after the agency issued assurances on Friday that there was ‘no immediate plan' to move inmates and then informing the congressman on Monday morning that inmate transfers were continuing.
When the inmate transfers will occur and how many will be sent to the two Valley prisons is not known, he said.
Instead, BOP officials referred Keller to the U.S. Marshal Service for more information.
“They literally passed the buck in direct disregard to us,” said Keller who has “deep concern” regarding the spread of the coronavirus.
The concern is that inmates from particularly hard-hit areas, including California and New York, which as of Monday morning had 21,000 cases, or 5 percent of the world's confirmed COVID-19 cases, will be sent to the Central Pennsylvania which so far has had far fewer confirmed cases.
Shane Fausey, national president of the Council of Prison Locals representing 122 prisons and 22,000 members,, said moving inmates during the pandemic is “reprehensible and inappropriate. It’s risking all of our communities across the country."
The health issue is so serious that "one (inmate transfer) is too many," said Keller.
The BOP said it is screening all inmates, but Fausey said that it isn't enough to ensure against the spread of the disease. He estimates about 10 percent of the 3,800 prisoners at Allenwood where he is based are elderly and all have health issues, making them most at-risk for contracting the disease.
Local 148 President Andy Kline said inmates brought into the Lewisburg Penitentiary will be quarantined but worries that staff will not be adequately protected because of a lack of protective gear.
"If we get a few to a dozen sick patients, we'll (use up) our equipment," he said. "We're not trying to diminish our responsibilities. What we're trying to do is limit the impact if (coronavirus) comes here."